Tuba Durgut, a Vital Strategies consultant based in Istanbul, talked to us about a powerful, cost-effective way to get tobacco control messages to millions of citizens in Turkey.
Can you explain the sustainable mechanism that allows the government of Turkey to broadcast public service announcements (PSAs) at no cost to educate people about tobacco’s health harms?
In 2008, Turkey enacted the Prevention of Harmful Effects of Tobacco Products law which stipulated, in part, that national, regional and local television and radio broadcasting organizations give at least 90 minutes of airtime per month over to the broadcasting of public service announcements (PSAs) about tobacco and other harmful products. At least 30 of these minutes must be during prime time.
Why is this important?
PSAs have been shown to be an effective way to spread population-level messages that have the power to change behaviors over time. When it comes to tobacco control, evidence-based campaigns with strong population reach can encourage quitting and reduce the frequency of tobacco use, delay and stop the initiation of tobacco use by young people, and heighten support for tobacco control initiatives such as smoke-free public places and higher tobacco taxes. They can even challenge positive perceptions about the tobacco industry.
TV and radio are still the most important means of reaching the largest audience in Turkey. Considering that the greatest cost for mass media campaigns is buying airtime, we can see how this broadcasting mechanism benefits public awareness.
This broadcast mechanism also helps increase the influence of public health advocates fighting against the huge money and power of the tobacco industry—an industry whose glossy advertising makes a product that kills 1 in 5 people worldwide seem glamorous and attractive. Vital Strategies supports the Turkish government to create campaigns that help to enforce smoke-free public places, promote plain packaging on tobacco products and ban tobacco advertising promotion and sponsorship that appeals to children.
How did this sustainable mechanism come to be?
Passing the law that allows for the free public advertisements took a concerted effort by the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of National Education, the Supreme Council of Radio and Television, as well as medical and non-profit organizations.
The evidence-based, anti-tobacco mass media campaigns produced with support from Vital Strategies for the government have been highly successful. “Their Gain, Our Loss” was broadcast to millions of people during prime time on more than 160 TV channels and 50 radio channels across Turkey. Despite competing with big-budget commercials, this evidence-based campaign was ranked second in Turkey in an Ipsos survey of the “Most Admired Campaigns of 2019,” as announced by the journal MediaCat.
Do broadcasters object to this free time they must give over to the government?
Broadcasters have not objected because public support for the law and for tobacco control campaigns has been extremely high.
Do other countries have a sustainable mechanism?
This type of sustainable broadcast mechanism would benefit many countries. I think we have a lot to learn from each other in our tobacco control efforts globally, including Turkey’s law. According to The Tobacco Atlas, 33 countries currently run high-quality tobacco control campaigns. A broadcasting mechanism would make it easier for more countries to conduct effective national mass-media campaigns with a large reach.
Vital Strategies’ report, Sustainable Funding Mechanisms for Population-Level Tobacco Control Communication Programs, describes several effective mechanisms. My suggestion is that each country should try to find the strategy that works within their local context. In India, where many films depict tobacco use, the Ministry of Health mandated that cinemas show anti-tobacco messaging prior to such films. Both Thailand and Vietnam have dedicated funds that are used for tobacco control mass media campaigns. In Australia, the government has committed to a multi-year funding program to support airing population-level media campaigns.
What can other countries do to create a sustainable mechanism of their own?
For airtime for PSAs on policy wins to be achieved, several factors need to be in place:
- Strong parliamentary support;
- Active support from relevant public institutions, the scientific and medical community, non-profit organizations and the public;
- A sympathetic press; and
- A sound legal argument to defend a sustainable mechanism.
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